tv Hardball With Chris Matthews MSNBC August 28, 2013 11:00pm-12:01am PDT
>> up next, a very special edition of chris hayes' show with martin luther king jr.'s "i have a dream" speech in its entirety. a question of character. let's play "hardball." ♪ good evening. i'm chris matthews in washington. the content of his character. remember that great line in martin luther king's speech? remember how he offered the hope that his four little children as he put it would some day be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character? have we reached that day? have we? is that how people of color are judged today? is that how the president of the united states has been judged? by the content of his character? i wish. you may wish. he must wish. barack obama the man has led a remarkable life.
he excelled in school. he climbed to the ivy league and made editor of the harvard law review in a blind test that has nothing to do with affirmative action. nothing. he has led an unblemished life, has been a solid faithful husband, a loving caring father to his daughters. his political flaw is that he spends too many evenings with his family and not enough time caging and winning over the follow politicians. he's too much the stay at home husband. and what has been the judgment of the right wing? have they said a single word of good about this man and of his character? even though he in fact meets every known standard, conservative standard of what a good man should be. clean, faithful, hard working, committed to goals, responsible, and yes when it comes to dealing with the country's enemies overseas, resolute. the content of his character? 50 years later i ask has this president of ours been given that test or has he been judged by his critics as martin luther king hopes we would get passed by the color of his skin.
i think every american knows the answer. what other president has been stopped in the conduct of his presidential business and been asked to show his papers? his birth certificate. what other president has been faced with nullification of his landmark accomplishments with talk of impeachment without even the fig leaf of a justification for such talk? let's get at it. taylor branch is author of "the king years" and michelle bernard center of women, politics and public policy and author of "moving america towards justice." taylor, you're a great historian. first let's do this. the president spoke on the 50th anniversary of the march on washington and the famous "i have a dream" speech. he paid tribute to the men and women in the front lines only a few of whom such as john lewis are with us today. let's watch the president. >> because they kept marching, america changed.
because they marched, the civil rights law was passed. because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed and congress changed and yes, eventually the white house changed. because they marched america became more free and more fair. not just for african-americans but for women and latinos, asians and native americans, for catholics, jews, and muslims, for gays, for americans with disabilities. america changed for you and for me. >> have conservatives in america judged this man by the content of his character? >> absolutely not. conservatives in america talk about conservative politics and use the word liberal. but they don't talk about politics at all and certainly
not at all about race even though most of the conservative political appeals have a hidden underpinning in race. this president's weakness is he can't talk about race very much. >> why can't he throw it back at the people who use it implicitly? >> because he's afraid that it will boomerang on him. >> will he be called a whiner? >> they'll call him out and say he's for favoritism. they'll say he's talking about reyes. a lot of conservatives misconstrued the speech and said that means we don't talk about race. therefore the goal is not to talk about race which is nonsense. to say we should get over talking about race is saying a democracy should get over having elections. that's what we do. that's how we manage our differences. that's how we form a more perfect union. when we deal with it forthrightly, we make progress across the board. when we hide from it, our politics atrophy into today's gridlock.
the greatest question right now that is unexamined including to some degree by president obama today is to what degree is partisan gridlock underneath it still driven by race? >> i think it's a good question. i think i know the answer, but you never know. as tip o'neill said you never know what's in another man's heart. has this president affirmatively been judged by the fact he's obviously a good family man, a clean guy, a hard working guy. all the values the conservatives have held high, they've never said he's a good man. mccain did it a couple times, and that seemed to be the end of it. you played the arab card against him, the birther card against him. and they just cheer or giggle. or don't say anything. >> never in my lifetime did i expect to see a member of congress yelling at the president of the united states during a national address, you lie. they never would have done it against bill clinton and they
couldn't stand him. they never would have done it to any other democratic president except barack obama. you can't help but think it's on the basis of race. he has been demonized over and over and over again. today the internet is full of strife with people saying he's a race baiter. a lot of the things he said are valued by conservatives. >> here's more of his speech. he correctly pointed out that dr. king's message tried to transcend race in a way. let's listen to the president make his case. >> the men and women who gathered 50 years ago were not there in search of some abstract idea. they were there seeking jobs as well as justice. dr. king explained that the goals of african-americans were identical to working people of all races. decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which
families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community. what king was describing has been the dream of every american. >> you know, i want to get back to what you said a moment ago. because i watched the speech today and i expected there to be a more concrete speech about jobs. but i did think he had opportunities to take a shot at the right wing and what they said about him. the birtherism that comes up from people like donald trump that keep playing the card. and republicans like mitt romney hang around them and kiss their butts. and you got people talking about impeachment and don't come up with a reason for it. they figure he's black or whatever, we'll talk about impeaching him. why do you think the president held back today, never pointed to an enemy, he talked about unity.
he really avoided any kind of divisiveness. is it because he is black? was it because of the occasion today? >> i think he was trying to be a statesman on a day that was not his. it was about the 50th anniversary of those people. and so he was trying to be above it. he paid tribute to the racial agenda 50 years ago, but then he shifted to economics today and he didn't connect them. the reason we can't make progress on economics today is because we're at a gridlock that is driven by racial appeals that we can't talk about. i wish what he would have said was 50 years ago we dealt forthrightly with race for a brief time and it paid dividends for everybody, for the whole country. when we do talk about it and we address it, our politics, and we believe we can accomplish great things together, we can. including for the white south. that's why it was amazing you had two white southern presidents up there saying this movement liberated my region of this country which resents the blessings that was given to us from this movement.
>> isn't that ironic? because what i know -- you know more about the history of all this, but you think it's like meals on wheels. you take big issues like social security. in rural areas of mississippi and alabama where there are a lot of poor people of both backgrounds black and white, they aren't on plantations. these are workers. and they really care about these basic social programs. and yet obama fights for them and they don't ally with them. >> they don't. and they think they will be better off on their own. >> i know you're friends with bill cosby and i in ways worship the guy. here's when the president didn't get away from delivering a tough message. he didn't sound like the lefty socialist his critics on the right portray him as. here he is. >> if we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that during the course of 50 years, there were times when some of us claiming to push for change lost our way. the anguish of assassinations set off self-defeating riots. legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into
excuse making for criminal behavior. and what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a desire for government support. as if we had no agency in our own liberation. as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child. and bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself. >> get tough. >> i loved it. i absolutely loved it for many
reasons. most important -- the most important reason being there is this stereotype that african-americans by and large the vast majority of us want to live on the state, we want to live on the welfare state, we don't take care of our children. we blame everything negative that happens to us on the man. and here is barack obama, a self-made man who has done it himself. there are millions of african-american men and women just like him all over the country who believe in -- >> d.c. in 6:30 in the morning look who's out catching the bus and going to work. >> they don't blame everything negative that happens to us on quote, unquote the man. but the bottom line is people also have to understand that to the extent there are institutional barriers to our success for example the lack of an opportunity to get an excellent and equal education, that's a huge problem. take down the barriers and we will rise as a nation. >> and another systemic problem, you got to get there during the two weeks somebody has given notice. bosses will find a fill for that
job as as soon as they can. who gets the job? somebody who knows somebody. and if you're not there and know the job's open. you know how it works. and whites have this advantage because they got these jobs and give them out most of times. that's why you've got to work at opening the door at bringing more people in for job interviews. taylor branch, it's an honor to have you on. and you are superb in your thinking. thank you. coming up half full or half empty, how far have we come in achieving king's dream? let's get both sides of this argument. this is "hardball," the place for politics. >> i have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. i have a dream today.
bigger is always better. ♪ ho ho ho ♪ green giant one of the more interesting things we've learned in the last few days is how "the washington post" long this city's premiere newspaper covered the king speech in 1963. it didn't. robert kaiser former managing editor of "the post" was a young reporter at the time. he said the paper was poised for perhaps a riot but not history. not one of their stories grasped the significance of dr. king's speech. in the end he says there was only one mention of the words "i have a dream." and that was in a wrapup of the day's rhetoric on page a-15 in the fifth paragraph. we'll be right back.
we have to interpret it. martin luther king jr. and all those who fought for justice served better than whining about political gridlock. try to figure out who he's talking to here. let's listen. >> -- political gridlock now. read a little history. it's nothing new. yes, there remain racial inequalities in employment, income, health, wealth, incarceration, and in the victims and perpetrators of violent crime. but we don't face beatings, lynchings, and shootings for our political beliefs anymore. and i would respectfully suggest that martin luther king did not live and die to hear his heirs whine about political gridlock. it is time to stop complaining and put our shoulders against the stubborn gates holding the american people back. >> well, some historic perspective to put today's immovable politics in context. joining me now is historian douglas brinkley whose book is
"cronkite." and terry edmond, first african-american speech writer ever, and he wrote speeches for as far back as we know anyway, terry. they should have researched this, right? >> yes. >> so you are. you worked for bill clinton. you know his style. who was he talking to about the complainers and the whiners? was he talking about the liberal progressive democratic heirs of dr. king? or is he talking about the right? about the people who blame everything on gridlock. who's he blame? >> first of all, you have to ask him directly who he was talking to. >> but i'm asking you. >> second of all i would say that he was talking to the american people. this was a speech directed to everyone. and he's just as frustrated as everyone about the gridlock in washington.
president clinton is also somewhat of a provocateur. so he's not -- >> was he pulling a sister soldier against obama today? >> no, it was not against obama. it was against -- it was directed -- >> i like to provoke too, you know. i like to provoke trouble. >> i know you do. >> i feel like he's talking about liberals. because he said whining and complaining and heirs of dr. king. you wouldn't call mitch mcconnell an heir of dr. king. or donald trump an heir to dr. king. i would call the democrats heirs to dr. king. >> i think you're right. remember, everybody said yes we can. and now people are saying no, we can't. i think he was trying to fix that. but this idea of that times are not uniquely oppressive. i think that's what clinton was trying to do. but, look. the right wingers who don't want to hear about the dream. listen to those like evan -- >> who doesn't want a budget? they don't even want the two sides to have a budget. they don't want to continue resolution. there is one side that wants gridlock. they want it all to stop.
i don't to be even hand when there's a culprit here. >> i hear you. but the president was talking to american people at large. and i think his point was in order to get those people from negates of freedom who were blocking the gates of freedom, we need to vote new people in. we need to get the old intransigents out and new people in. >> one thing struck me today was the fact there was noed a homonym shots. but it was almost as if they had the house rules. so you couldn't make mention of anybody by name as if there's something wrong with that person. i didn't hear mitch mcconnell's name, donald trump, rand paul. the ones they would have normally take an shot at.
they didn't. is that the roles of the park service the people with the mountie hats on today they were going to call out and say you can't talk like that. >> i think it was meant to be like a big memorial. it started off with the big moment with the bell. but it gave it kind of a religious cast. it wasn't about sticking a finger in somebody's face. barack obama came close to it. he talked about people that think greed is good. in some ways i felt there was an old 99% versus the one percenters. >> did you get a sense he was talking about -- obama took a couple shots. i was not against the republicans, but against the way things are. there's a wider chasm than before between richer people -- we know that. people are making exponentially
more money at the top. and the stagnant wages. making a little more but not enough to keep up with inflation. not being able to go to the movies when they used to or buy new shoes. that sense of a struggling class out there. i don't think he blamed anybody essentially for that. >> no. that's been his theme for years now that america in order to be the great country that we are, we have to deal with the issue of income inequality and rising unemployment. especially in poor and african-american and latino communities. so i think he, you know, pointed out those problems without overtly blaming anyone. >> i get the feeling you might be one to take president clinton's side against president obama right now. i have this hunch.
when i talk about president obama, i think he's uniquely hated by the right. they didn't like bill clinton. but they never yelled him out as michelle bernard said. they never humiliated him on the house floor when he gave an address. these saying he's street con artist, a street hood, that reference to him as being illegal, impeachable. not even naming the grounds. at least with your boss, they had grounds for impeachment. >> you can't deny the fact some of this is racial. based on the fact he's the first african-american president. they just can't get over it. >> i think it's like they -- i legitimately think some of these guys -- like my dad worried about the national debt. i i think they put their head on the pillow with the wife and they can't go to sleep at night. barack obama's president. he's in washington. he's in the oval office. he's living upstairs.
he shouldn't be there. >> and the republican politicians don't want to be in a photo op with president obama. >> how about this saying i feel sick ten feet from the guy. that guy said it. >> saying what a lot of people in capitol hill feel. because that photo -- >> because crist's job. >> anybody would want to be with the president on a day like this. >> this is high school stuff. thank you, doug. terry, the first ever presidential speech writer. thank you, guys. up next, a taste of the sights and sounds from this historic day. we've got a lot of celebrities giving speeches. a lot of faces you'll recognize here at the place for politics. >> let's ask ourselves how will the dream live on in me and you and all of us. ♪ turn around
welcome back and thank you for sharing this historic day with us on msnbc. it's hard to overstate the importance of the march on washington. there's no doubt that progress has been made in the last 50 years since, however, it's not often we have the opportunity to reflect as an entire country on the significance of that turning point in history of 50 years ago. that's what this anniversary calls for. the events on the national mall today recapture the sentiments of dr. martin luther king and whitney young and other civil rights leaders who set forth a change in the nation. a generation later, the nation gathered to celebrate and reflect. not everyone who spoke was a politician today. here are more of the familiar celebrity faces we saw today. ♪ >> i want you to recognize the hero that exists inside yourselves. to understand that every step
you take around an unknown corner marks your bravery. when we overcome life's hurdles, when we face and conquer our fears, when we help others become their better selves, we are committing small acts of heroism. >> now it's our turn to live up to our parents' dream. to draw renewed strength from what happened here 50 years ago and work together for a better world. >> let us ask ourselves how will the dream live on in me and you and all of us. we must recommit to that love that abides and connects each of us to shine through and let freedom ring. hey there. here's what's happening. president obama is speaking out on possible action against syria. this just a short time ago on
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>> welcome back to "hardball." by the way, clinton has never looked better in his life. everybody talks about he's getting older in health. he looks great. that was former president clinton taking a shot at those pushing voter suppression and against gun control. two issues that gravley effect the african-american community. as we commemorate the 1963 march on washington it's worth remembering that it wasn't long ago republicans used to compete in my old day for the african-american vote. in 1960, for example, richard nixon captured 32% of the black vote. george romney, mitt romney's dad was a staunch supporter of civil rights as was his dad. arlen specter vigorously went for minority voters. and never forget nelson rockefeller. he was huge amongst the black community. today, different story. republicans have generally
seized on racial divisions in this country and tried to exploit those. jonathan capehart is with "the washington post" and msnbc contributor. and martin luther king iii. thank you for being with us. you write columns every day. i want you to start on this thing. why don't republicans make a decent effort to say we agree o on a lot of things. we're going to try to get the huge number of voters db let's face it. i've been in this country longer than most white people. immigrants have always lived here. >> that is true. up until about maybe the 1960 presidential election, they did compete for the african-american vote. but along the way, certainly after president johnson signed the civil rights act that the republican party just decided you know what?
let's drive a wedge between white voters and the democratic party. how can we do that? scapegoating african-americans. just ramp up the rhetoric. all sorts of things to try to make african-americans other, to make african-americans not people who have been here and helped build this country but these basically foreign invaders who are here at our -- meaning at the rest of the country's, you know. >> colin powell comes out the other day saying what are they doing this for? there's no evidence of vast voter fraudulence. if one or two people cheated, it didn't effect the results anywhere. if there's so much of it, point to it. >> absolutely. in fact, he said that the party is going to regret what it did. you know, i'm just trying to
understand is the republican party really trying to divide the nation? >> are they circling the wagons? >> you know, they're doing superficial things i think. i don't see any real efforts yet. not at all. i'm disappointed in that because i think number one black folk are not monolithic. there are african-americans in the republican party. i think we have to be. today one of the things i was concerned about was we did not have republicans involved. president bush was going to come, but of course he just had his procedure so he was not going to come. i would have liked to have seen more republicans involved today. >> good point. republicans have launched an all-out war on african-americans. they've introduced voter suppression legislation. in three dozen states this year alone many of which would hit black districts the hardest. they've blocked efforts for gun control. it's an issue with disproportionate effect in urban and black neighborhoods. they want to dismantle the affordable care act which is helping working class and poor african-americans partly because
it will help insure millions. and also in class warfare by taking out food stamps and programs that would effect minority communities. now the gop is basically giving up on the vote. all these statewide guys, bill scranton, they always in the black community competed. they may have only gotten the middle class. but there is a middle class in the black community. >> i wrote a piece about how the republican party is leaving votes on the table. both policywise and rhetorically. they could compete for the latino vote. they could compete for the african-american vote. they could compete for the lbgt vote, the gay vote if they would just moderate -- >> but they have to make a decision. they've got to change their platform. >> change their platform. but also change their rhetoric.
the naacp did a poll of african-american -- likely african-american voters in key swing states. they asked the black voters if the republican party supported social justice issues in some sort of way, would you be more likely to vote for the republicans and they said yes. >> you're older than this, but you remember the lone ranger and tonto. he says me thinks he speaks with forked tongue. here's a guy that does. reince priebus. he spoke about the 50th anniversary of the march on washington. listen to what he said. then i'll tell you what he's doing. >> just think about what this means for our party, what lessons we can learn, what i can learn as chairman of the party. you know, you can't make the sale if you don't show up and ask for the order, right?
our party has a rich, proud history of equality, freedom, opportunity. but we don't tell our story anymore. we've lost the history of this party. because we don't tell it. but we're going to. >> okay. here's the story, reince. the story is they've spent an enormous amount of time getting three dozen states to run voter suppression efforts. in pennsylvania the head of the republican party gleason openly says they shaved points by five points. like old basketball scandals. then tar sigh said we're going to get romney to win this election because we're going to force them into voter i.d. clearly his own rank and file are saying they're out to screw the black voter. and the black voter showed up in bigger numbers than whites did because they didn't want to be suppressed. >> no question about it. and in fact, that's one of the reasons why probably african-american vote showed up
in large numbers. because it was the situation to tell people you can't vote. black folk were saying no, in fact we'll register more. we got north carolina, texas, georgia, alabama. all now have these restrictive laws. i'm sad about that because my dad and many others, john lewis, so many others in our nation as well as some republicans tried to make it possible for everybody to vote easily. and there are people who are trying to keep people from voting. that's very sad in 2013. >> i'm going to ask you, son. what was it like to be the son today? >> it was incredible to have the president of the united states, to have my wife and daughter, my brother and his wife, my sister, to have two former presidents, to have congressman lewis. and the list goes on and on. it was phenomenal. >> and who's still there? lewis and a few other people. a photographer back from '63 who was taking pictures. but the great thing about the 50th anniversary is you still have some living people. >> of course you also had ambassador young, reverend
jackson was around, reverend sharpton not 50 years ago but certainly on the stage today. but just all the organizations, the significant organizations have representation including the national council of negro women that dr. heidt was representing today. >> the thing everyone talked about today was the phenomenal nature of it. it wasn't scripted. there was no teleprompter. it somehow came out when mahalia jackson yelled tell them about the dream. anyone can yell tell them about the dream. but your father did something. did he ever try to explain to you how it came? >> quite frankly, if you look at iterations, he did one in 1960 to '61. another in detroit. so he put them all together to deliver this incredible message that moved the nation and our world. >> that crescendo that came at
the end, that build, the speech was kind of prosaic, then he started talking my country 'tis of thee from the song. and the references to the bible and shakespeare. "the new york times" today pointed out -- people are going to be studying this for years. the source material of the bible, of shakespeare, of woody guthrie, of the declaration and documents all enriching that one statement. in 17 minutes. >> i mean, that's the brilliance of it. that was the brilliance of who he as an orator was. and "i have a dream" is probably one of the most well-known speeches on the planet. >> around the world. >> around the world. unquestionably. and i think certainly today represented some of that. with all the coverage from rural networks. i've done so many things from bbc that i've ever done in my life.
but because of the importance of this message. >> what's it like when you hear him say on tape again my four little children? you're one of them. >> that certainly -- i am certainly judged by, i think, the content of my character as an older guy. but i'm concerned that the vast majority of younger black men are not. trayvon martin shows us that black men are first profiled on their skin. >> mr. capehart, i've come to respect your writing and thinking. what did you feel today? >> an incredible moment, the entire day, watching the proceedings. i have to say the most powerful point in the afternoon came i believe it was at 4:00 on this channel when we showed the full 17-minute speech. and to see it in context was incredibly moving. i sat in my office literally with tears in my eyes as he got to that "i have a dream" part. >> we're playing that whole thing again.
>> i sent a tweet after it was over and i could compose myself. it was like a 17-minute love letter to america from a worthy suitor using america's own words to try to win her over. >> by the way, you don't have to say literally. because i know you did have tears. and i thank you so much. jonathan capehart. you're not joe biden. thank you. and martin luther king iii, what an honor to have you on. up next, one of the people who performed in 1963, he's coming up now. he'll be on in just a minute and play for us some of the stuff he did back then. and this is "hardball," the place for politics. ♪
one of the people most impressed with dr. king's speech back in 1963 was a man who knew a thing or two himself about giving a speech. president john f. kennedy. taylor branch who was with us earlier writes president kennedy watched king's speech on tv. he was impressed with how effortlessly he broke into his "i have a dream" refrain. branch says kennedy turned to his aides and remarked he's damn good. certainly was. we'll be right back.
♪ i got a hammer ♪ and i got a bell ♪ i got a song to sing all over this land ♪ ♪ ♪ >> that rhythm, it was rousing back then. we're back right now, it was the great folk group, peter paul and marry, "if i had a hammer" performing 50 years ago today. he performed today five decades after the famous march. he's not the musician, he's the activist. the very issues of war, and civil rights that they fought for back then. thank you for joining us. thank you very much. let me ask you about the fact
that, one of the great reactions that dr. king got 50 years ago, he said, we have a lot of whites here. by the fact that we're here, and the crowd went up. >> what that was then was an affair of the heart. it was not an affair of policy, people fell in love and got married to a dream that day, and we stayed married all this time. today was a renewal of vowels if you will. do you know the civil rights acts were signed at the religious action center because of the collaborative efforts of jews and blacks.
zhou know how many progressive whites were involved in the committee? this was a dream of togetherness. it was very specifically something that was intrusive. that is what he said, is that -- and it wasn't talking about, let's try to make this happen it had happened with this group, and he was celebrating it, and saying, now we're going to take it, here are your marching orders. people really don't understand that this was a heart centric effort. >> the stark reality of that. the three guys who were killed and buried alive, two jewish guys i believe. >> i remember -- how about these cases, what are you talking about.
>> they sang at the laying of the grave stone, and the song that we sang was the same song that we sang. how many deaths will it take till he knows. that too many people have died. ♪ well the answer my friend is blowing in the wind ♪ ♪ the answer -- >> see, when you sing that, there's something that you can feel from that first march, which was a combination of the awareness of the pain and the suffering of african-americans that whites indeed had taken on themselves. as if it was in their hearts. there were lynchings once every
three days on average. we -- and hypocritically we said, the pledge of allegiance, and liberty and justice for all. we knew that, it was a break point. now today, it's far more complicated. >> the beat period was over. the civil rights movement is reaching the crescendo. the biggest thing about the 60s were the civil rights. >> what brought it to a head. was it dogs? >> i think it was just the sense that we were good enough to finally be able to put the scales from our eyes and say, look at the cruelty that we must end. >> sing us out.
when we finish tonight with the politics of today. you know what surprised me, the stunning absence of partisanship. i didn't hear the words mitch mcconnell or ted cruz or donald trump, not once, not one reference to those who have derided and mocked this president for four and a half years. not a word about those who called him an illegal immigrant. that's trumps word on the american voter. a three-card monty going at the corner. not a word about the efforts of the rights to nullify the law of the land on health care, or to impeach obama, as i said at the outset tonight, a figure leaf. you have to ask yourself, that clearly includes the president who didn't call out the republicans as the villain. why. why don't they, the republicans get back into the contest for black votes. obama's not running again. they can run african-american candidates?
why not return to where the republican party was say back in the 1960s when republican senators, all but two of them back when it was the dixie-crats. they were opponents of blacks getting a real opportunity to vote. that's why my little question tonight as we leave each other, why can't the republicans learn to speak. to set a good example for those right wingers whose racial talk is as henry higgins would say, painful to your ears. that's hardball tonight. thanks for being with us. please stay tuned for a special edition of all in, including the entire, i have a dream speech by dr. martin luther king, jr.